From birth, I had an inordinate fear of snakes, a phobia really. When Mom was pregnant with me, she, Dad and Dad’s younger brother, Berkeley, were walking back from the tobacco field when Berkeley spotted a snake down the lane. Berkeley was terrified of snakes, so he and Mom stayed put. Dad walked down to whack it with a hoe. He killed it in short order. It was a poisonous moccasin snake. Mom and Berkeley hustled on down to make sure it was dead and pronounced it so. After Dad killed the snake, he used the hoe to pitch it into the field. It must’ve just had enough energy left to wrap itself around the handle of the hoe. When Dad pitched it, it went backwards and landed on Mom. The snake wrapped itself tightly around Mom’s neck. Mom let out a blood-curdling scream. Dad rushed to get it off of her. Everyone thought that was why I was so afraid of snakes. It made sense. We now know that emotions from the mother actually affect the child in the womb and she was a month or so away from giving birth to me.

Somehow, I thought that there may be more to it than that but I had no idea what it could be. As a child growing up on a farm with many creeks, springs, ponds and a river, there was an abundance of snakes. It seemed to me they were everywhere. And I kept an eye out for them. I was on hyper-alert for snakes most of my life.

In the course of things, I married, had children, and moved to the suburbs but I always continued my vigilance for snakes. Wherever I was or whenever I got in the car, I scanned to make sure it was free of snakes. It was a totally unconscious pattern. My husband was the one and only person I ever knew who completely understood and never questioned my fear. When I had a nightmare, he would turn on the lights, look under the bed or clear out the closet. He’d do whatever it took to reassure me that the house was free of snakes. And that I was safe. He didn’t try to placate me with, “they’re more afraid of you then you are of them” and/or “they won’t hurt you” -as if anyone could know that, for sure, for certain.

Dreams like that didn’t happen often but it was one thing I could count on from him—a total understanding of that intense fear of snakes that I had endured all my life. Nevertheless, eleven years on, we got a divorce.

I met George Ritchie through a church group and we became fast friends. He wrote two books about his near-death experience, My life After Dying: Becoming Alive to Universal Love and Ordered to Return; My Life After Dying. Elizabeth Sherill co-wrote his first book, Return from Tomorrow.

This following short paragraph I took from the back of Return from Tomorrow tells, in brief, Dr. Ritchie’s story. “At the age of twenty, George Ritchie died in any Army hospital. Nine minutes later, he returned to life. What happened to him during those minutes was so compelling that it changed his life forever. He tells of his transforming encounter with the Son of God, who led him to encounters with other nonphysical beings at the very doorway of eternity. Ritchie’s extraordinary experiences not only altered his view of eternity, but it has also altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of seekers. One of the most startling and hopeful descriptions of the realms beyond, this classic will inspire readers from all walks of life.”

Through meeting Dr. Ritchie and listening to his story of dying and meeting Jesus, I learned about myself. My life developed a clarity that it had not had before and a clear focus. Every day was filled with deep meaning. What I wanted was to be closer to Jesus, the Christ. I realized that everything else that had happened in my life was just bringing me to that understanding.

But I was still afraid of snakes.

Dr. Ritchie said people that were coming to his office had a sickness of the spirit, not of the body, and he wanted to be able to help them in a deeper way. He organized summer camps high up in the mountains of Virginia for entire families. It was an intense, emotional, healing experience-if you were up to it. I took my kids. It was good for us. I think we attended three years in a row. It was heavy with psychological counseling, spiritual lessons, and nature walks.

Late one night I was leaving my cabin, which was basically a screened in porch with bunk beds, to go to the bathroom. I opened the cabin door. I surprised a big snake. It lunged up at me, mouth wide open and fangs out ready to bite me. I turned around so quickly that my feet didn’t move. My body fell forward, full weight onto the ground and I let out a blood curdling scream. Everyone came running.

I calmed down, eventually, and finally went back to bed. Not that I shut my eyes all night. But I was quiet. Thinking. The next morning, Dr. Ritchie found me and said let’s go for a walk.

Oh, no, I thought-another man telling me that snakes were more afraid of me than I of them and that, although the snake scared me, I’d scared it, too. Snakes are God’s little creatures, too. Yeah. Yeah. I’d heard all of these explanations and more.

We started down the path towards the creek. Along the way, yes: Dr. Ritchie was telling me that snakes were God’s creatures and that you scared him/her too, but he also took my hand and held it tight. Very tight. So tight that I ceased listening to him and began concentrating on my hand. Then he took my other hand. Ummm, I wondered, what is going on?

We stood together and he turned and said, “Look at me.” I looked up at him while trying to relax my hands which were hurting. He was explaining to me about fear and anxiety and how we use symbols for these things. He said I had huge amounts of both fear and anxiety; so consequently, I manifested a huge snake/ fear. I projected my fear onto snakes.

Then, he said, “Sandra, look down at the ground.”

I did. I was surrounded by snakes. They were crawling everywhere. Big snakes, baby snakes, green ones, black ones, all kinds of snakes. If I could’ve levitated I would’ve. No wonder he was holding me so tight, he knew I wanted to run, run like the wind away from these snakes like I’ve done all my life in my dreams. And a few times in real life, too.

I trusted Dr. Ritchie so completely that I didn’t cry or scream or anything. I simply looked down and, for the first time, I saw that these snakes were relatively safe looking, calm, not trying to bite me, not threatening me in any way. They were just going about their business, probably wondering why Dr. Ritchie called them all together.

And then the light switched on—you know, that awakening that changes the structure of everything you thought you knew. I had an epiphany that, yes it was my fear within me that I had projected outwards. My fear took the form of a snake probably because of Mom’s experience when I was in the womb. It really had nothing at all to do with the actual animal. It is me, all me, internalizing a super anxiety that has made me hyper vigilant for my entire life.

And like that, I let go of my fear of snakes.

Though I never spoke throughout our walk, nor said a word about the release of fear, George felt the release and he let my hands go. We had a laugh. I rubbed my hands. The snakes crawled off; I didn’t run.

George could do these things. Months later after a brief meeting with my ex-husband to discuss the children, I returned to a friend’s house for dinner. She hadn’t yet arrived so I settled on her sofa to rest and went into a deep meditative state. I wondered about the connection from past lives that my husband and I might have had and what that meant to us now.

In that semi-sleep, altered state, I had a vision: a scene unfolded in front of me, as if it were projected on a big television screen except that it rolled horizontally, not vertically. In one scene, I was on a big barge floating down a river, dressed in a ceremonial, brocaded gown, one of many women similarly dressed. I knew that we were Asian, maybe from Siam, and my husband was in the royal family. His mother was at his knee attending his every need. We, the wives and ladies of the court, were ignored. I was sad, bored and leaning against a pole. I had my hand in the water. I watched as a snake swam up to the barge. I said to the snake, please bite me and take me away from here. Then I saw myself die.

Additional scenes rolled by which explained to me why my ex-husband was so understanding about my fear of snakes. In each and every scene, he is there and I die by snake bite. In the last scene, I was a small black baby in the wilds of Africa, scared, crying, and sitting in the dirt. A snake is coming towards me and I’m looking at it fearfully. I say, in my mind, if you bite me I’ll be forever afraid of snakes. As it bit me, a man was running towards me picking me up. It was my husband in the body of an almost naked black man.

Amazingly enough, I continue to have snake dreams, but they are no longer fear-based. Now my dreams reflect a much larger understanding of the history, meaning and spirituality of the snake—but that is for another time.

Sandra Martin